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Feb 3, 2011 07:52 AM

Heading to Midland and area in February

My wife, son and I are heading to Midland later this month, with a likely stop in Penetanguishene too, and are looking for good food. Can be a bakery, cafe, casual spot or fancier. Definitely want to find a good piece of local fish, and ideally any place that is focusing on some form of local, organic, whole ingredients etc...

The Explorer's Cafe seems to be worth a lunch or dinner. From a previous post I'm aware of:
Midland fish and chips
The Riv for Greek
Henrys for local fish

Any thoughts on the above, or on anything else I should have on my radar?

Mad Michael's for bbq isn't an option as it's summer-only...


Mad Michael's
8215 93 Hwy, Wyebridge, ON L0K1E0, CA

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  1. Good luck! I think your list is pretty much everything.
    The Library has been mentioned by others, but I found it less attractive than Explorer's Cafe (say).

    You're going to find mostly 'hearty' food.

    For Breakfast, Blue Sky in Penetang is good (but avoid the pancakes). Best pancakes at Martha's Palace on William Street.

    Martha's Palace Restaurant
    727 William St, Midland, ON L4R4Y5, CA

    2 Replies
    1. re: estufarian

      Martha's appears to have closed.
      As I drove past, not a single car in parking lot and a 'For Rent' sign in window (but sidewalk sign was still in place).

      1. re: estufarian

        A new place has opened in the same space - but haven't tried it yet.

    2. We had a good time, and while not exactly a food paradise, there were some bright spots. Thanks to estufarian for the tips.

      Ciboullet et Cie downtown Midland is a nice lunch stop and has some awfully good looking baked items. Very good flavours and lots of whole ingredients.

      The Riv was fine, but only fine. Explorer's Cafe was better than expected. Some nice local options and pretty good flavours. Felt reasonably 'homemade.'

      Unfortunately we couldn't get into Froth Cafe in Penetang, but it looked good for coffee and light food. And I forget the name, but there was a great shop with local and fair trade wares and foods that was delightful on the main street (west side), on the block with the steepest hill.

      The Library has a pub now too, but neither that or the main dining room seemed inspiring.

      Henry's was decent, but I think has reputation going more so than being the best food. Had the platter (for 2) with most fish types on it and most of the fish was overcooked. The pickerel cheeks were excellent, though.

      Really looking forward to a visit in warmer weather and hitting up some farmer's markets. Both Penetang and Midland have one, with the Penetang being solely local foods.

      1. Hoping to update this thread.

        We'll be heading to Penetang this summer and while I grew up there, I haven't lived there in almost twenty years and rarely eat out when when I do return to visit family, so not sure where to go for decent lunches and dinners. The suggestions in this thread so far look interesting, but I do know that things tend to close down quickly in the area if the owners don't manage to make a go of it right away, so just wondering if places like Ciboullet & Cie, Froth and Explorer's Café are still a go and if anything else worthwhile has opened up recently.

        12 Replies
        1. re: canadiangirl_in_Paris

          We’re up there at least twice a month and have pretty much tried everything this year.

          Without question the top recommendation is Mad Michael’s (although haven’t made it this year as they only re-opened on Victoria Day weekend). On my earlier visit to Midland in May, we ate at Explorer’s Café (and Mad Michael was at the next table). Still the best ‘formal’ place. Food is pretty good. Wine list is excellent (and they have a fair BYOW policy).
          I haven’t tried many of the lunchtime/café places, so can’t help with Ciboullet and Froth.
          For breakfast we still return to Blue Sky in Penetang.

          Other places we’ve tried for Breakfast include Uncle Roy’s (which Googlemaps has in the wrong place – it’s now moved to the east side of King Street near the Bank of Nova Scotia). Despite its Chinese Food concentration, it does an excellent breakfast. Another diner closer to the harbour on King Street is called Den’s Diner (? – certainly Den’s) – and it’s pretty bad (not mentioned on Googlemaps).

          For evenings the only welcome addition to the list is Andrea’s in Midland (south end of King Street, right by the Comfort Inn). The chef here is trying, and the food is better than most in the area. Pleasant ambiance too (but horrible location).

          The Library offers live music on Fri and Sat (new ownership). I was not impressed (didn’t seem the chef was even making an effort) but AmuseGirl thought the food was presentable.
          Henry’s still has a great view, but the food is problematic. Try anything fresh and cross your fingers. The ‘Georgian Bay Shrimp’ (actually smelts) were the best thing I had so far.

          Mad Michael's
          8215 93 Hwy, Wyebridge, ON L0K1E0, CA

          Uncle Roy's Restaurant
          233 King St, Midland, ON L4R3M1, CA

          1. re: estufarian

            Thanks Estufarian! I did eat once at Explorer's on my last visit home and was indeed impressed (particularly with the wines). Nothing like it had been around when I lived there! And Mad Michael's is definitely on my to-do list; I've turned my French husband onto pulled pork so we'll be taking a drive to Wyebridge for sure.

            Any thoughts of The Surf in Balm Beach, particularly for the pickerel? I ate there last time I was in the area and have good memories, but then it might have been the breathtaking sunset...

            Mad Michael's
            8215 93 Hwy, Wyebridge, ON L0K1E0, CA

            1. re: canadiangirl_in_Paris

              Haven't been there..... yet!

              Have had the pickerel this year at Henry's. Wouldn't try again!

              1. re: estufarian

                There is an Italian restaurant just down the street from the Riv called Lillys.. We went there a few months ago and it was pretty good. Also the restaurant on Hwy 12 neat Victoria Harbour does a good breakfast. Sorry I can't remember the name it has changed hands so much is the last few years.

              2. re: canadiangirl_in_Paris

                A partial update!

                The diner to avoid is Den's Skillet.

                And I was told to try Scully's - bit of a disconnect here as it seems to be called Scully's Waterfront Grill - but the menu said Scully's Crab Shack. BUT there's no crab on the menu - it resembles a sports bar more than anything else, but a premium location, overlooking the bay at the end of King Street.

                Food was just O.K. - service was amateurish; no beverage list at all.
                But I'm torn as one dish was superb - the pickerel, perfectly oven baked with a simple butter sauce. Price was super-high (by Midland standards) at $26- and they didn't tell us how much it would be (the menu indicated price varied by availability - the price was almost double most other entrees). However, it was probably the most enjoyable pickerel I've had in years.

                Overall, a so-so meal - but that pickerel was memorable.

                Scully's Crab Shack
                177 King St, Midland, ON L4R3L8, CA

                1. re: estufarian

                  I know that place, though I haven't eaten there since it became Scully's. It used to be the Boatworks and was my bar of choice once I could actually frequent bars but before I moved away to the city. Definitely a great patio on a hot summer's evening, but I'm not surprised your meal left you feeling so-so. When I'd go there it was burgers and fries, chicken fingers and wings, and all manner of fried appetizer; unless the clientele has shifted dramatically, I'd imagine it's much of the same. Nice to know they do a good pickerel, though the idea that the price varies depending on availability doesn't sit well with me. They can charge 26$ whenever they like with that system. At the very least your server should have informed you of the price when you placed your order or it could have been up on a blackboard somewhere.

                  Thanks for the update and keep 'em coming! Only three more weeks and I'll be there myself to tuck into some freshly caught Georgian Bay fish!

                  Georgian Bay Restaurant
                  48 Main St, Penetanguishene, ON L9M1T2, CA

                  1. re: canadiangirl_in_Paris

                    Thought of going to Surf last time up - but weather was miserable, so not really the destination of choice. Ended up at Scully's 'by default' as traffic was heavy and at least it's open later. But if you've gotta have pickerel.........

                    On holidays Mad Michael often does a special (e.g. Smoked Bison Ribs - last year), so if your stay extends through Aug 1, check on his menu.

                    Mad Michael's
                    8215 93 Hwy, Wyebridge, ON L0K1E0, CA

                    1. re: estufarian

                      Last time up got to try Ciboullet & Cie. Certainly upscale (by Midland standards) - sells gourmet foods and offers pre-cooked entrees and some eat-in stuff. Lunch is a 'tick-the-boxes' sandwich choice which is then made fresh. HUGE overhead in staff for doing this, so I don't see the economics working as the prices are fair for what you get. Choice of meat/cheese/vegetables/condiments all served on a focaccia bread. The bread itself didn't seeem to be the freshest but not stale, and was a bit bland (I prefer mine with Rosemary) but it's heated in a sandwich press and was certainly worth the $6.50.

                      And finally made it to Surf. Yes the view is great. Both food and service are 'local'! Everybody is friendly and it's comfort food. Prices are lower than Scully's and neither has any wine worth trying! The pickerel at Surf was around $16 ($26 at Scullys), but in flavour I'd give the edge to Scully's - the Surf version really didn't have much of anything - just forgettable (not BAD).

                      1. re: estufarian

                        RE: The Surf. Must have indeed been the view influencing my memories of the meal! Will try Ciboullet & Cie., too. We have a whole month there so plenty of time to make the rounds!

                        1. re: canadiangirl_in_Paris

                          Also see the recent updates on Mad Michaels thread

                          Mad Michael's
                          8215 93 Hwy, Wyebridge, ON L0K1E0, CA

                        2. re: estufarian

                          Stopped by Surf for lunch.
                          Great view. Awful food!

                2. re: estufarian

                  Andrea's seems to have closed. Not open last Friday but no notices on door (except a permit to renovate to create office space.
                  As it was getting late drove over to the venerable Mom's on William Street, where I once had a competent breakfast.
                  It was AWFUL - easy winner of worst meal ANYWHERE this year.
                  Pickerel probably wasn't - tasted like catfish!
                  Liver was appalling - I can no longer argue with my daughter that liver doesn't seem like shoe leather. Totally inedible. Onions were baby food texture (frozen?). Bacon was OK.
                  Veggies (both mains) seemed like 'boil for 20 minutes in the bag'. Plus there was a TV showing local ads the whole time.

              3. A new update - doesn't make sense to separate from this thread.

                There's a new (to me) place right on King St at the bay end (about 1 1/2 blocks from the bay) called Lilly's Italian Eatery. And an excellent contender (albeit after only one meal).
                First the disclaimer - I'm not a reliable source on Italian food as I don't eat tomatoes, which eliminates many (most?) dishes on Italian menus (but I generally do like Northern Italian with cream-based sauces).
                But arriving later than usual on a Friday without a reservation we glanced into the Riv, but preferred the menu at Lilly's and got the last table.
                A couple of general observations - food is VERY heavy on garlic (not a problem for me) and portions are LARGE (even for me!).

                We split a caesar sald and it was excellent (despite the garlic - or maybe because of it). Of particular note were the croutons that seemed to explode into crumbs as soon as bitten - they weren't the ubiquitous 'concrete toast' texture. Wondered why these were used and asked, to be told that EVERYTHING was house-made, including the croutons and the dressing (I'm guessing that sourdough bread may have been used for these as well).

                With the mains one impressive part was the vegetables - a very light hand in the kitchen meant they were still crunchy (the green beans even squeaked to the bite), exactly as I like them. Both mains had the same basic melange of veggies (a characteristic of small towns everywhere) but there were about 5 different, so a variety of textures/flavours existed. Choice of potato or pasta as starch - both excellent.
                And the Pickerel was one of the best - clearly fresh; cooked perfectly (no mushiness) and pan-fried in butter (actually a little less butter may have improved it slightly for me - but the flavour was impressive). Also a fair price $20 - compared to the $26 at Scully's, which was my reference point before this. The other main was lamb noisettes - cuttable with a regular knife (no steak knife here). Again a creditable effort.

                Desserts were too large to finish - get your sugar fix here!

                We'll definitely be back, but tentatively I'm putting this in my top 3 places in the area alongside Explorers and Mad Michaels.

                Oh, mustn't forget, - an excellent wine list (better on reds than whites) - only Explorers is in the same category here.

                Service was knowledgeable, efficient and friendly - and possibly the most professional in the area.
                Be aware of the TV - used to entertain kids so parents can eat without interruption - except at our relatively late seating the sound was turned off (a little bizarre to see rats being featured there as it was set to the menu page of Ratatouille!).
                For those who know the area this was formerly Wimpey's and before that Diana's (with maybe a few other owners in-between). Still similar layout, but much renovated - ESPECIALLY the booths.

                Mad Michael's
                8215 93 Hwy, Wyebridge, ON L0K1E0, CA

                6 Replies
                1. re: estufarian

                  I tried checking out Lilly's Italian Eatery on Saturday and they were closed :( I guess I didn't realize that they are not open for lunch on the weekend.

                  So I tried The Explorers Cafe. And it was really delicious.

                  I had the blackened white fish po boy, my friend had some curry noodle stir fry bowl with beef that was heavenly, and we both shared candied Asian pork deep fried wontons that were truly special. I mean wow. It came with some kind of carrot slaw with a pickled vegetable I could not identify that was also wonderful. The only miss was my side salad with a roasted garlic/anchovy dressing. Very plain, no flavour, not very well dressed. If there was any garlic or anchovies in the dressing I sure couldn’t taste any. Standard mesclun mix. Kinda boring.

                  The service was very sweet but man oh man did it take a VERY long time for our food to come. Are they always that slow?? I'm trying to figure out why they were so slow as it was an off hour and pretty dead when I was there so the kitchen was not slammed to say the least. So that was annoying and odd.

                  Slow wait aside the service was great as was the food and I will definitely return!

                  1. re: magic

                    Hey it's vacation season!

                    Take time to stop and smell the spices!!

                    Actually haven't been to either for lunch - maybe less experienced staff? Or, maybe everything is cooked to order from scratch - there's a concept!

                    1. re: estufarian

                      No, you're right. It's tough to curb that Toronto toe-tapping when outside the city. Haha.

                      End of the day, long wait aside, it was a good spot and I will for sure be back!

                  2. re: estufarian

                    Made it back to Lilly's again.

                    For me, the chef (cook/owner) is probably the most talented in the area.
                    This time I tried the more Italian dishes - that's how they describe themselves. Again my disclaimer on Italian expertise -but the pasta was clearly home -made, as were the sauces, and everything cooked perfectly.
                    Spaghetti with pesto (actually a side in lieu of potatoes) was perfectly cooked with bright flavour. The chicken Marsala was as good as I've ever had - moist dense chicken - again perfectly cooked - great to find chicken with texture after so many bland pieces.
                    And the Chorizo ravioli was again perfectly cooked, with the crumbiness of the sausage contrasting with the pasta and some barely cooked vegies for crunch - some sliced lengthwise (carrot) and some chopped and served almost raw.

                    Absolutely HUGE portions - didn't have room for dessert.
                    I have no idea where this lady trained but wow! what a talent.

                    1. re: estufarian

                      Update 2012.
                      Lilly's is PHENOMENAL!
                      Best Pickerel EVER.
                      Also tried their chicken and shrmp with fettucine in a Thai curry sauce - as I mentioned higher up this thread, I typically avoid tomato based dishes, so this seemed to be worth trying as pasta in the past has been extremely good.

                      But I prefer thinner noodles so asked to substitute spaghetti for the fettucine.
                      THE REQUEST WAS DENIED - with an explanation that the texture would be all wrong for this dish. OK I know the customer is 'mostly right' - but I highly value texture so we tried it anyway. The bad news is that fettucine made this a 'heavier' dish than I really wanted. The good (better) news is that, indeed the texture WAS perfect (and it's believable that if spaghetti had been used the pasta would have been mushy). Both the chicken and shrimp were cooked perfectly and the Thai curry (green) was layered with spices - I could take more heat but can't fault the balance in this dish.

                      So a perfectly prepared dish (as is every pasta I've tried there) - just wish they had a spaghetti version. But if you like Pickerel - try that first!

                      1. re: estufarian

                        Estufarian, I love that you continue to update this thread! We're headed back to Penetang/Midland for our annual month-long stay. My husband is already talking about Mad Michael's (they don't "do" barbecue here in France, so it's an exotic treat for him) and we'll definitely try Lilly's this time around. Will report back here...

                  3. 2012 Status

                    Thought it best to add a post giving current assessments as some of the above are a bit older.

                    I've already raved about Lilly's just above - IMO the most talented chef in the area.

                    But kudos to Explorer's Cafe. They've definitely upped their game this year. Although it was always solid, the food tended to comfort (despite the exotic descriptions). But the current menu seems much lighter and they even have a '100-mile' course. Also identify the local ingredients (e.g. the potatoes (in several dishes) are all 'Lafontaine' - which are consistently excellent).

                    There's a lighter touch to the cooking than I recall - this has a slight downside if one wants 'very spicy' (e.g. the Vindaloo is described now as 'medium-hot' ) but they will spice it up on request (we spiced up a Thai dish, after we overheard a server describing it as 'not spicy' to another table).

                    And, without question, the best wine list in the area.

                    Of the top 3, only Mad Michael doesn't seem to have 'tried harder' - if anything not quite as good as last year - but I still think it's better (all round) than anything in GTA (some items are better at Buster Rhino, but all-round I still prefer Mad Michael).

                    BUT (and this is the main point) there are now three SOLID choices in Midland - don't recall ever before looking forward to dining there when visiting from Toronto - it used to be ' what can I find'. But at the prices for all three I'm hard put to beat that in Toronto for everyday meals.

                    Long may it continue.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: estufarian

                      Been to both Mad Michael's and Explorer's Cafe this summer. Both excellent meals. No complaints at all! Explorer's Singapore noodles with beef is to die for. I wish they'd put the pork wontons on the lunch menu, kind of a drag that I can't get that unless I go there for dinner (which I never do). They are so good.

                      Try Mad Michael's watermelon rind pickles! Unusual and delish!

                      1. re: magic

                        Haven't tried the Singapore noodles - that's because I have a great source in Toronto - Wokkin' On Wheels - $6! The 'Original' Food Truck!
                        Michael's 'Specials' at lunch have been good - main lunch menu - same as last year.
                        Will try the pickles next time.
                        And Lilly's is open for lunch on weekdays only. But never tried it for lunch.